College Connect: Navigating housing and renting issues as a college student

By Morgan Brown

Amari Tillman is a 19-year-old second-year undergraduate at the University of Georgia. Midway through her sophomore year, the safe path she had travelled by living on campus split in front of her.

Should she finally leave the campus and dive into apartment life, or should she continue enjoying the benefits of living and studying in the same place?

“For starters, there’s a lot of social questions to consider about moving off campus,” Tillman said.

Tillman said she enjoys being able to walk a short distance to her classes, to see her friends and attend social events on campus without worrying about parking. But she said her dorm life isn’t without its downsides: noise when she needs quiet and communal showers.

Her choice of remaining in a dorm or moving off campus may come down to finances. However, Tillman acknowledged there are gaps in her knowledge when it comes to the financial side of on-campus versus off-campus housing.

“I just don’t know a lot about what’s better and what to look for in terms of pricing,” Tillman said. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

Andy Carswell, a professor of financial planning, housing and consumer economics at the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, offered guidance. Carswell, who has a Ph.D. in urban affairs and public policy, said students like Tillman should understand their financial circumstances before beginning the process for an apartment search.

“A lot of it is very subjective,” Carswell noted. College students have wages, alternate sources of income and housing needs and options that are atypical for the average adult seeking to research the housing market.

However, Carswell had some advice for students like Tillman.

For starters, Carswell noted that although there are financial stressors attached to living on campus, a student shouldn’t write it off on the assumption that it is cheaper to move into an apartment. On a case-by-case basis, it may not be, he said.

Carswell said research indicated students living on campus experienced lower levels of financial- and academic-related stress while in college compared to students who opt to move off campus.

Many students consider other forms of income besides their part-time wages when looking into ways to fund housing, including their income tax refund checks. Tillman mentioned a student loan refund, wondering how much of it she could consider allocating to rent.

Carswell does not recommend using such funds for paying rent. The reason for this is the research he’s seen showed that student loan debt is among the greatest financial stresses for adults after college.

Carswell said an undergraduate student should consider applying any refunds they receive to better long-term uses such as paying down student loan debt and interest to reduce the amount of debt they have after graduation.

If applying a refund windfall to one’s rent isn’t a good solution, how much should Tillman consider paying for an apartment or other housing?

Carswell offered a general rule all adults should consider.

“In general, the recommendation is that an adult puts no more than 30 percent of their income into their [monthly housing payments],” Carswell said, adding that in his personal and professional opinion, this recommendation also provided good guidance for students as well.


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